The Null Device


A radical leftist organiser was abducted by armed men disguised as demonstrators at the Quebec free trade summit. Jaggi Singh, a veteran of the anti-globalisation movement, was savagely beaten and hustled into a van by three undercover police types. Look for his badly mutilated corpse to be found in a river or landfill in a few days, strategically timed to deter the less fanatical Nu Marxists from showing up at the worldwide ceremonial McDonalds-trashings planned for May 1.


Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, is studying the neurology of mystical experience, by taking brain scans of meditators and praying nuns. His results so far are interesting:

During meditation, part of the parietal lobe, towards the top and rear of the brain, was much less active than when the volunteers were merely sitting still. With a thrill, Newberg and d'Aquili realised that this was the exact region of the brain where the distinction between self and other originates.
The limbic system is a part of the brain that dates from way back in our evolution. Its function nowadays is to monitor our experiences and label especially significant events, such as the sight of your child's face, with emotional tags to say "this is important". During an intense religious experience, researchers believe that the limbic system becomes unusually active, tagging everything with special significance.

So it seems that transcendental experience is all in internal metadata, and mystical experiences are just normal experiences with a "THIS IS IMPORTANT" bit set. Which makes sense.

And then there's Michael Persinger of Laurentian University, Ontario, who has developed a helmet that magnetically induces mystical experiences.

Through trial and error and a bit of educated guesswork, he's found that a weak magnetic field... rotating anticlockwise in a complex pattern about the temporal lobes will cause four out of five people to feel a spectral presence in the room with them... What people make of that presence depends on their own biases and beliefs. If a loved one has recently died, they may feel that person has returned to see them. Religious types often identify the presence as God. "This is all in the laboratory, so you can imagine what would happen if the person is alone in their bed at night or in a church, where the context is so important," he says. Persinger has donned the helmet himself and felt the presence, though he says the richness of the experience is diminished because he knows what's going on.

Of course, religious folks are not too keen on the idea that mystical experience is a purely physical phenomenon, and are quick to draw a distinction between "legitimate" mystical states and "illegitimate" ones (such as those induced by drugs or Dr. Persinger's magnetic helmet).

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Those troublemakers at The Reg turn a packet sniffer on the Windows XP registration process.


Two items related to pranks: a list of 10 memorable pranks, all involving telephones, computers and phreaking or hacking, and a review of a book of phone pranks by one Mike Loew.

Loew might be technically lying when he pretends to be a gay hairdresser trying to join the US Air Force, or a man who has just shot his foot off when he calls the Flower Essence Alternative Therapy Centre for a holistic approach to his injury ("if you have a homeopathic remedy arnica, you could take that"); but the air of veracity, by which I mean fully and accurately transcribed conversations, clings to this book.

(via Lev and Robot Wisdom, respectively)

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I had an odd dream last night; I was in an electronics store (Tandy or Dick Smith or somesuch), and looking through the selection of CDs they had for sale. These were all vaguely arty "cyberculture" titles, of the sort you'd see mentioned in WIRED in the early-to-mid 1990s; futuristic transhumanist concept albums, CD-ROM multimedia works, "virtual reality", &c, most probably produced by Mac-toting cybercultural artists in San Francisco.

I looked at one title on a computer; it was an interactive guide on how to draw anime characters, and was published by IBM. The program was of the usual multimedia slideshow variety, with each page having some text/graphics and Back/Forward buttons, as well as a simple drawing area, where you followed instructions. These included drawing the head, then two circles for the eyes, and a few more things, and then choosing colours for the face and such. I didn't buy the program, though, as it was Windows-only and required Microsoft Word for part of it, for some reason.


New weapons in the war against crime: Across America, police departments are fitting police dogs with titanium teeth. The false teeth are partly a cost-cutting measure, intended to extend the working life of dogs (whose teeth often become damaged), and partly intended to intimidate actual and potential perps, as only an Alsatian with gleaming steel fangs can. (via Lev)


First there was Dr. Nitschke's floating euthanasia ship, and now a women's group in the Netherlands, Women on Waves, is planning to establish a floating abortion clinic. The ship will cruise the world, offering abortions and contraception to oppressed women throughout the world's conservative hellholes. The various Religious Right factions are not amused; already, the deputy prime minister of Malta, a fiercely Catholic island-state in the Mediterranean, has promised to prosecute anybody collaborating with the group. Perhaps we can expect to see the Vatican Special Forces do a Rainbow Warrior? (via Rebecca's Pocket)